Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Baseball Cathedral In Truth

Well, we’re still in it. Technically. So, I suppose I should be happy. And, yet, I’m not. Why? Let me analogize, if I may.

I saw a truck hit a deer on the highway once. It was devastating. The deer was lying in the middle of the road, convulsing, in pain, unable to move. Naturally, I pulled over to call 911—you know, to get help for the deer. It occurred to me about ten seconds into the call that 911 exists as an emergency service for people and not for overpopulated species of animals. Especially in Wyoming, which is where I was. So I sat by helplessly, watching the deer as it struggled unsuccessfully to stand up. Eventually, another truck pulled over. A man emerged holding a hammer, and I realized with some terror what was about to happen. I watched shocked and horrified as he dealt the doe its death blow. But, to my surprise, it was quick, well-executed, and probably the most merciful thing he could have done. Do you see what I’m driving at?

Just put me out of my misery.

Barring a miracle, The House That Ruth Built has closed its doors for the final time. My last request before I made my way up to the stadium on Sunday was that we win. And, win, we did—with fairly little trouble. It was a night that I will never forget—alternately moving and strange.

With the pre-game ceremony, the emphasis was definitely on the strange. For reasons inexplicable, they kicked it off by parading a bunch of guys dressed up like old-timey Yankees onto the field. Each actor was meant to represent a different player from a bygone era, and all of them stood awkwardly in a line in center field for the duration of the hour-long ceremony. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. To give the effect that the ghosts of the stadium were present? To try to transport us back in time? To make me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed? The other weird and unnecessary attempt at dramatic effect was that the ceremony that we were watching live in color was being displayed to us in black and white on the jumbotron. It was very meta.

The rest of the ceremony was reminiscent of the All-Star Game. They paid on-screen tribute to many of the greats, calling a number of them forward to take their respective positions on the field. Willie Randolph made the most notable entrance, sliding into second base. He may be too stoic in the dugout, but, when it comes to an emotional farewell ceremony—what a ham.

Yogi was in attendance, of course. But that’s hardly noteworthy. In recent years, it’s more unusual for me to go to the Stadium when Yogi isn’t there than when he is. I think he’s their go-to guy for a first pitch if they can’t find anyone else. I wonder what it’s like to be Yogi, whose whole existence is basically predicated on the fact of his Yankee-ness. More so than many of the other retired Bombers, I would say. (For the record, I named my hound after Yogi because she’s cute, has big ears, and gives the appearance of being not-so-bright but is secretly a total genius. I think.)

Bobby Murcer, whose wife and children attended in his place, received a warm welcome, as did Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez. But, ultimately, it was Bernie’s night. After an unceremonious exit and a two year absence from the team, Sunday was our chance to let Bernie know just how much we love him. And I think it’s safe to say that we got our message across. He received an ovation larger than anyone else’s, lasting almost two minutes, and by which he seemed very moved. Bernie was always a favorite of mine. I was angry about the way he was treated and regretted the fact that we never got the opportunity to say a proper goodbye. So, for me, had they excluded the entire ceremony—the old-timey players, the black and white jumbotron—but given us this chance to show Bernie our undying devotion? Dayeinu.

In honor of the fact that Babe hit a home run on the day that the stadium opened—something they seemed eager to drill into us, as if we didn’t already know—his daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Pretty amazing. I should be in such good shape when I’m 92. Johnny Damon and Jose Molina must have been channeling the Ruth energy because each of them got dingers of their own. Johnny a three-run shot in the 3rd and Molina a two-run homer in the 4th.

(A note on both of their names. I have talked about Jhonny Peralta and how confused I am by the fact that he doesn’t just decide to spell his name the right way. However, a friend of mine commented to me at the game that it actually would make sense if Johnny Damon were to spell his name Jhonny. I can’t say why, exactly, but I agree with this assessment. It just works. I almost expect it. As for Molina, I am not sure quite how or when it began, but I have noticed that the people who work the Stadium scoreboard have launched a campaign to get us all to refer to him as Panda. To my knowledge, they have not been particularly successful, which makes it weird. I am aware that both Bengie and Jose Molina go by this nickname in their clubhouses, which I also think is weird—two brothers should not share a nickname. However, the fans have obviously not decided to pick up the thread. So, to the people who operate the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, stop. Just stop. It’s not happening.)

After a season of ceremonially counting down the number of home games until the Stadium lights went out, Michael Kay had the audacity to tell us that the number on the ticker would never go to zero—because the Stadium would live on in our hearts until the end of time. Instead, they moved the ticker from one to—get ready for this—“forever.” Please. What a gyp. I wanted that number at zero. Zero gives you closure. Forever does not. But I got my closure. Or my closer, rather. It was only appropriate that Mo should end the game and shut down the Stadium. It was only when the first bars of “Enter Sandman” came over the loudspeakers that it finally registered: This was it. This was really and truly it.

Bob Sheppard has the uncanny ability to makes everything he says sound important. I will leave you with his tribute to the Stadium. But I want you to imagine it in his voice. If you don’t, it might sound sort of dumb:

Farewell old Yankee Stadium, farewell
What a wonderful story you can tell
DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth
A baseball cathedral in truth

No comments: